Frankenweenie

Tagged: Film

1. Short film (1984). Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Lenny Ripps, from Burton's outline. Cast includes Paul Bartel, Shelley Duvall, Barret Oliver and Daniel Stern. 30 minutes. Black and white.

Victor Frankenstein (Oliver), a ten-year-old amateur filmmaker in a picket-fence neighbourhood, brings his dead dog back to life with the power of electricity; the neighbours are initially repelled, but come round after Sparky, pursued with battery torches to a miniature golf-course windmill, sacrifices himself to save Victor from the flames and is resurrected again with the help of the community's car batteries.

Shelved by Disney in the US, but released in the UK as a supporting feature to Baby: The Lost Legend (1985), this early short vividly anticipates Burton's signature preoccupation with misunderstood creative loners in grotesquely conservative communities, and the highly stylized studio sets have much in common with his later animation design. Writing and mise-en-scène are stiff, at least partly on purpose, but the finale is quite brilliant, pastiching and sweetly subverting James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) with a characteristically Burtonian twist of the monster being taken to the bosom of the community. [NL]

2. Animated film (2012). Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Tim Burton, with the voices of Charlie Tahan, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Atticus Shaffer, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder. Written by John August, based on Ripps's screenplay. 87 minutes. Black and white, 3D (converted).

Expanded stop-motion remake of the above, for the studio that originally canned it, and fleshing out the original storyline with a new cast of gothically visualized classmates who each attempt to replicate Victor's feat with their own deceased pets, unleashing final-act mayhem as their less adept experiments in reanimation produce a rampage of malcreated Frankenstein Monsters. Designs and animation are exquisite, but the narrative uncertain, and an initially spirited pro-science message is compromised and dissipated by the imperative to avoid encouraging real-life kids to experiment with electricity; the local lightning has magical properties, and the difference between happy and horrific adventures in modern Prometheanism is the trademark Disney commodity of love. [NL]

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